Psych Out Page 2
The band wasted no time releasing their debut self-titled EP, which was received strongly by national press, helping them earn supporting slots on tours with Aussie legends You Am I, the Black Keys, Yeasayer and MGMT. Although a trip to the UK to cut a single with cult favourite engineer Liam Watson at his Toe Rag Studios spread the word around London, it wasn't until the release of their first full-length that the entire world came knocking.
Innerspeaker arrived in May 2010 to rave reviews. The album put the band on the map, allowing them to embark on two headline North American tours and eventually go on to win Album of the Year in Australia at the Rolling Stone Awards.
Almost immediately, Parker grew a solid fan base full of gearheads passionate about everything from the kind of mics he uses to the set-up of his pedal board. He has the makings of a cult music icon, especially considering his growing reputation for preferring isolation. As a revered frontman, the entire spotlight shines on him, but Watson says he and the rest of the band don't mind.
"I'm not too fussed that I'm not the psychedelic messiah," Watson laughs, noting that's how Parker's fans see him. "It's funny how when you're younger you want to be in a big, successful band, but then the bigger and more successful the band gets, things become weirder and less casual. I like staying on this side of things."
Despite having called the album Lonerism, Parker is clearly not a tormented rock genius in the vein of Syd Barrett or Brian Wilson. Spend some time with the 26-year-old and you'll find a guy who's just in love with his job. He doesn't come off as reclusive or unapproachable. He's friendly, relatable and quite vivid in detailing his musicality with a relaxed, beach bum poise.
"The recording process is a result of me wanting to make an album about being alone," Parker says. "Making music is all about forgetting about everything around you. It's about doing the craziest shit you can imagine, and then waiting until later on to see if you can play it to the rest of the world or not. The name of the album has nothing to do with the recording method, it's just kind of a coincidence. I grew up that way and recording music is just one of the things I do when I alone.
"Before Tame Impala, it worked much more like normal bands. I still have other bands with my friends, which is where I get my collaborative music fix. Most of the other bands we have are diplomatic, just a group of friends making music together. I guess, in a way, Tame Impala is a bit of an anomaly compared to the rest."
Parker says he doesn't hole himself away from the rest of the band when he's composing the music. Watson brought some ideas to the table and received co-writing credits on "Elephant" and "Apocalypse Dreams." According to Watson, there were even more ideas but Parker politely dismissed them as "rubbish."
Though it's not a democracy, Parker says, "They're my best friends, so if I'm ever uncertain I know I can go to them and get an honest opinion. They're the best musicians I know, and they're also the people whose musical opinion I respect most. So I can go to them and ask if something's too cheesy or too cliché or too boneheaded. Sometimes it's a hazy line between what is totally bad-ass and what is totally lame. They will be honest. They are the people that keep me from going crazy."
But Lonerism presented Parker with far more of a challenge than he'd encountered previously. He's said the album nearly drove him mad, and if you ask him to explain why, you quickly understand how such a thing could happen.
"I was constantly trying to make the album better," he says with amusement. "I keep working until someone tells me to stop. I would keep working on songs forever if I were allowed to, which is deadly because it would send you insane. For me it's about the original form, the first splurt that just sort of came out ― I'm obsessed with that. So for the next two years, until the album comes out, I'm paranoid that I'll ruin this really sacred expression that came out first.
"Doing a song is weird. If I know I have another year, I know I won't bother thinking about lyrics until a week before mixing," he continues. "I will think about almost nothing for two years, and then a week, even sometimes an hour before it gets mixed I will record the vocals. I think I just procrastinate because I worry if I do it now, I might think of something a whole lot more inspired down the road, so I wait until an hour before it's due, that I have to fucking do it now or I won't have it when it gets mixed." (The mixer in question was the incomparable Dave Fridmann, who mixed both Innerspeaker and Lonerism.)
In the midst of Lonerism, Parker was also producing the Melody's Echo Chamber album, which meant working in both Perth and Paris, where his girlfriend Prochet is based. Maybe it was because of their relationship or maybe it's just that he didn't have to stress over deadlines, but Parker lights up thinking about his role as a producer for someone else.
"It was great, because I didn't have to think in any kind of artistic way. It was just me turning the knobs and making all the sounds," he says with delight. "For me, working alone is being able to express, which is the artistic part. The scientific part is trying to find a cool drum sound or making a really fucked up sounding guitar. That part doesn't require any solitude, it's just me having fun. It was really easy and fulfilling for me to just be the hands. Tame Impala doesn't rely on anyone else to do it, so for me it's just part of what I do. I don't really know what a producer does, except for what I did on the Melody's Echo Chamber album."
Prochet begs to differ. "Oh yeah, he's really modest," she says. "He totally sculpted the sound and the record with his wizard hands. I directed him a lot 'cause I know exactly how I want my music to sound, but what he achieved is definitely what I was dreaming to find. It's weird because it was so natural, spontaneous and organic.
"He's a sound wizard. The magic is in his hands and the way he thinks about the music. He knows exactly what he's doing," she adds. "He's the easiest person to work with and I had fun all the time. He's also really lazy though. We'd just record one thing a day and then he'd spend hours alone in his studio drawing patterns on his oscilloscope with sound waves."
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